The American Civil Union Liberties helped settle a case against two Connecticut police officers accused of profiling and unlawfully detaining a black man.
The lawsuit arose after Woodrow Vereen of Bridgeport, CT, was pulled over for driving through a yellow light.
Vereen, an African-American man and father of three, was taking his two sons out for ice cream. At the time of the stop, Vereen was working as a juvenile detention officer and had no criminal record.
The officers who accosted Vereen tried to invent justification for the traffic stop on the spot.
One of the two, Keith Ruffin, told Vereen that a new Connecticut law requires drivers to come to a complete stop at yellow lights, although there is no such law in the state.
The confrontation took a humiliating turn when Ruffin and his partner, Carlos Vasquez, requested to see Vereen’s documents.
While Woodrow Vereen was driving an insured car, he couldn’t find the proof of insurance certificate anywhere in the vehicle.
Ruffin and Vasquez ordered Vereen to step out onto the sidewalk after the man declined to let his vehicle be searched. The pair then frisked him and searched the car anyway, despite Vereen’s two sons still being seated in the back.
Nothing illegal was found on Vereen’s person or in his car, but the officers issued him a citation for driving through a yellow light anyway.
While the citation was eventually tossed out by a judge, Vereen was sufficiently upset to consider taking the matter to court.
Dan Barrett, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut, said Vereen had his Fourth Amendment rights violated when Ruffin and Vasquez conducted an unreasonable search.
“These officers turned an all-American night of ice cream, family and Little League into a tutorial on trampling the Bill of Rights,” said Barrett.
The settlement was reached Thursday, with Vereen being awarded an unspecified amount in damages from the city of Bridgeport.
“We are pleased that our client’s quest for justice has ended in a fair agreement,” said Barrett, who also represented Vereen in the lawsuit. “Although Mr. Vereen had done nothing wrong and did not consent to a search, he was removed from his car, frisked, and detained by Bridgeport police, all in full view of his frightened sons. This agreement sends a message that the Fourth Amendment still matters in Connecticut, and we hope that the Bridgeport police department will reconsider acting like an occupying force that suspects even a father taking his children out for ice cream.”
For Vereen, the encounter was more than unjust – he fears it might have taught his children to believe that law enforcement isn’t there to help him. As a corrections officer, Vereen had told his two sons that police are their allies.
“They did more than violate my civil rights,” he said. “They also shattered my children’s trust in law enforcement.”